Three years ago Jane Mealy and Rick Belhumeur had the easiest time winning their elections to the Flagler Beach City Commission: Mealy was re-elected to her fourth term without opposition. Belhumeur was elected to his first term also without opposition, once incumbent Steve Settle opted not to run again.
Neither will have as easy a time in the March election. They are among four candidates who filed to run by the time qualifying ended today at 5 p.m. Paul Eik, who first ran two years ago and is a fixture at commission meetings, is running again. So is Deborah Phillips, a retired banker living in Flagler Beach for the past year and a half, and running the The Pink Turtle Gift Shoppe on South Daytona Avenue since last year.
Belhumeur had a direct hand in spurring Phillips to run: this week he reported to the city’s code enforcement division a sign in back of Phillips’s shop that does not comply with the city’s sign ordinance. Code enforcement turned out to speak to Phillips about it. She speculated that it was Blehumeur’s doing. Belhumeur confirmed it in an interview today.
Phillips, who’s only been to one commission meeting since moving to town, then decided to run against him and went to City Hall to file papers, saying Belhumeur is “not small-business friendly.”
“I thought it was an anonymous complaint, but if that’s how it is, that’s how it is,” Belhumeur said: he had not made the complaint because she was running against him, since she hadn;lt yet decided to. He didn’t even know who she was. “I could walk right past her on the sidewalk and have no clue,” he said. But during an initial interview this afternoon, he described her candidacy as that of a “disgruntled” person who had a code enforcement issue. That led to more questions both to Belhumeur and to Phillips, who, after some reluctance, spoke of the issue more openly.
“Well, that’s what I signed up for,” Belhumeur said, “I mean I drive around town all the time, I’m not picking on any one person. I bring up issues all over town. I drive more miles around that city than police probably. I’m always bringing things to staff’s attention.”
Beyond the code enforcement issue, Phillips has not yet formulated a campaign platform. “I just applied today so I haven’t really thought too much through on it,” Phillips said. “The city or the commission needs more involvement with small business, I thought running for commission would be a good way for me to help with that.”
Phillips says she was in banking for 37 years in Chicago before deciding to move to Flagler Beach to enjoy the small-town feel and have a small business.
Belhumeur says he’s running again “Because I enjoy what I’m doing, I think I’m helping make a difference, and speaking for the people that for whatever reason can’t do it themselves, whether they’re still working or don’t know how it all works, whatever the case may be.”
He cites several priorities, among them continuing beach management, including getting toa decision on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer plan to renourish more than 2 miles of beaches in town, and making a decision on paid parking in the city. “That needs to be put to bed one way or the other, it’s been going on too long,” he said. He also wants money secured to upgrade the city’s sewer plant.
“Right now the biggest thing I’m concerned about is being able to get along with the county and whoever they pick as the administrator, as somebody we can have good communications with,” Belhumeur said. County government just accepted the resignation of Craig Coffey, the administrator for the past 11 years. He added: “I want to keep going in the path that I’m going. Somebody new is going to take a couple of years to get geared up again and know what’s going on.”
Mealy, who was first elected in 2006 and hasn’t lost an election since, says “there’s still lots of things I’d like to keep working on. I still think I’m doing good for the city, I’d like to continue doing that.” She sees the two projects on State Road A1A as top issues this year. One is the reconstruction of a segment at the south end of town, the other the construction of a sea wall at the north end of town, both by the state Department of Transportation. The projects will take all year. “Hopefully we can make life as painless as we can for the businesses and the residents that are going to be affected,” Mealy said. That can be done through easing such things as business-entrance regulations (allowing openings on Central Avenue, for example), [providing proper signage, working with the chamber of commerce “and letting everybody know that the city is open and that the businesses are open.”
Mealy also will seek to secure more state money for the city’s sewer plant–and to continue doing the city’s citizens academy. “I enjoy doing them and getting people to know how the city is run and all that’s involved in a small town,” she said.
Eik, a former member of the city’s Planning and Architecture Review board, says “not a whole lot has changed” since his last run two years ago as far as his intentions: “One of the things I’d like to accomplish is to bring the city into the 21st century so far as their budget and budget process goes,” Eik said. “You have to actually sit through all of the minutiae that all the budget contains, and I think that can be simplified.” He concedes that generally speaking, getting more readable budget documents isn’t at the very top of most residents’ concerns, but it could help residents better understand their city.
He cites two other issues: “A good and strong business community is essential to the city’s economic life, if you will, and looking at what is the city doing now in order to attract new and different business to the city,” he says, “or are we just kind of sitting back? We have this great little town here, come and start your business here. There is more and better work that can be done there.”
And he wants more attention paid to environmental issues. He is concerned about sea rise and the broader effects of climate change, but would like to see the city commission have a more active conversation about it.
Asked about what would compel him to unseat either Mealy or Belhumeur, Eik was candid: he essentially endorsed Mealy while taking on Belhumeur: “Jane has been on our city commission for quite some time,” Eik said, “she has a tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding, she has relationships with a lot of other people that can help the city, there’s not that much there that she does and has been doing that I happen to disagree with. She often times is the voice of reason, but at the same time she’s knowledgeable, she’s like myself, she doesn’t mind doing the research on an issue and is well prepared. Mr. Belhumeur on the other hand is a relative newcomer, he got his seat in an uncontested election, and so far as his leadership, how he goes about running the different meetings and things”–Belhumeur is currently the chairman of the commission–“I find myself a little uncomfortable with that. Exactly why, I’m not going to say at this point because I haven’t formulated my thoughts to put them out there.”
The last city commission meeting may be a clue: the commission received a presentation of a controversial parking study. It was not slated to make any decisions. Eik asked several questions the commission couldn’t readily answer.
“I said, ‘Paul, we’re not here to make conclusions or have discussions about it necessarily, we’re just accepting a presentation,” Belhumeur said he told Eik. “Paul never liked me anyway, I’m not worried about that. He gets up and asks questions about things we’d just been talking about, if he’d been paying attention, he’d have the answer.”
The Flagler Beach election is on March 5, the same day as the Bunnell election, which has drawn six candidates for three seats, including one incumbent. The top two vote-getters in Flagler Beach’s election will be seated.
The Flagler Women’s Club will host a candidate forum for Flagler Beach candidates on February 19 at 7 p.m. at 1524 South Central Avenue. The forum, open to all, will feature the candidates making three-minute statements each then taking written questions.